DWP Commissioner Held Fundraiser for Councilmember Koretz in Violation of City Ethics Laws
The October fundraiser for Koretz’s city controller campaign appears to have been in violation of several ethics laws.
Update: On December 9, 2022, Jill Banks Barad-Hopkins agreed to be fined $5,000 by the Los Angeles Ethics Commission for holding this fundraiser as well as an earlier “meet-and-greet” for former City Councilmember David Ryu. Barad-Hopkins also resigned from her post as commissioner in September 2022.
In February 2023, now former Councilmember Koretz agreed to be fined $2,500 by the Ethics Commission for attending this fundraiser.
On October 11, 2021, Los Angeles Department of Water and Power Commissioner Jill Banks Barad-Hopkins sent out invitations to a fundraiser for CD 5 councilmember and city controller candidate Paul Koretz, which would be held in the backyard of her house on October 23. Attached was a flier with her name on it next to Koretz’s, and a payment form for contributions and tickets. She also noted Koretz’s work on labor rights, animal rights, environmental protection, and reducing homelessness.
While the letter seems anodyne, city ethics laws are clear — it is prohibited for city commissioners to hold fundraisers for a candidate for office. It is also a violation of city ethics laws for city officials to ask someone else to make a contribution, to put their names on an invitation, to put their name or signature on a fundraising event, to use their home for a fundraising event, or to act as an “agent or intermediary in the making of a contribution.”
These are all individual violations of section 49.5.5 of the governmental ethics ordinance concerning “misuse of City resources,” and 49.7.11 of the city’s campaign finance ordinance concerning “solicitation and delivery of campaign contributions.” The laws this invitation violates are also summarized quite succinctly right on the City Ethics Commission website.
A source tells Knock LA that the City Ethics Commission has received a complaint regarding this incident.
In addition to serving on the DWP board, Barad-Hopkins is also the founder and chair of the Valley Alliance of Neighborhood Councils, which represents 34 of the 99 neighborhood councils in the city of LA.
Knock LA spoke with one of the event’s co-hosts, Francine Oschin, who confirmed that the October fundraiser took place. Oschin runs Oschin Partners, Inc., which is registered as a lobbying firm with the City of LA.
Oschin said that “Jill [Banks Barad-Hopkins] is a very cautious person” and that she was sure Barad-Hopkins “cleared” the event. It’s unclear what Oschin meant by this. Barad-Hopkins did not respond for comment at the time of publication.
Because Oschin does business with Metro, she says she is careful not to make any political donations. However, other hosts on the fundraiser’s flier — Rick Tuttle, Ira Freeman, and Mary Ellen Early — made contributions to Koretz’s city controller campaign within weeks of the fundraising event, and Barad-Hopkins’ husband, Ross Hopkins, also made a donation. Also listed on the flier are Allen Lawrence and Howard Welinsky, who made maximum contributions in late 2020.
Oschin says that Councilmember Koretz reached out to them about having a fundraiser. “He didn’t say, ‘I need to raise money,’ he said ‘I need to get my name out there, that would be good to be able to talk to people, so they know who I am,’” she recalled.
“[Barad-Hopkins] should know better. This is like in the basic brochure for political activity that all of these city officials are given. This is very simple, straightforward shit,” says Rob Quan, an organizer with Unrig LA. “Generally speaking, all of these commissioners go through ethics training … And this is like a very textbook, no.”
Quan adds that candidates have ample opportunity to speak to the Ethics Commission informally about murky or unclear situations. They can also receive “formal” advice in writing from the commission, and receive immunity from ethics enforcement if the candidate acts “in good faith” on that advice. This formal advice becomes a searchable public record. There’s a bounty of options, “so at that level, it’s pretty shocking,” says Quan.
Quan added that this is even more surprising given that, in June 2021, CD 9 candidate Dulce Vasquez filed a complaint with the City Ethics Commission over two redistricting commissioners appearing on a fundraising flier for Councilmember Curren Price Jr. In that scenario, Price’s campaign manager claimed the fliers were never sent out and that the event did not occur.
The David Vahedi and Kenneth Mejia campaigns for city controller have both noted the Koretz fundraiser on their social media. City controller candidate Rob Wilcox, who is also the spokesperson for City Attorney Mike Feuer, told Knock LA, “We have ethics laws and an Ethics Commission to enforce those laws for a reason. I fully expect Ethics to conduct the appropriate investigation and report publicly their findings.”
Once an investigation is finished, penalties are meted out per violation, and can include cease-and-desist orders or demands for documents to be filed, as well as a maximum of $5,000 in monetary penalties per violation or three times the amount of money per issue.
Oschin is adamant that “Paul [Koretz] is a very honorable person. I don’t think he would do anything that wasn’t absolutely above board.”
Councilmember Koretz did not respond to Knock LA by the time of publication.